Lindsay Hassett

CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1949

Lindsay Hassett

Although ARTHUR LINDSAY HASSETT finished second to Bradman in the Australian averages, statistics convey but an inadequate impression of his true value to the 1948 side. In addition to his playing ability Hassett's cheerfulness and leadership, which extended to off-the-field relaxation as well as in the more exacting part of the programme, combined to make him an ideal vice-captain able to lift a considerable load off Bradman's busy shoulders.

As with the majority of Australian boys, Hassett, born at Geelong on August 28, 1913, first took an interest in cricket in his family backyard, where he and his five elder brothers regularly played three-a-side "Test" matches. From nine years of age to nineteen Hassett attended Geelong College and played in the first XI for the best part of six seasons, during which he received good cricket advice from a master, P. L. Williams, a grade player who also coached lan Johnson and the late Ross Gregory. In the Christmas holidays, when 17, Hassett began playing Grade cricket for South Melbourne, and was there coached by E. V. "Hughie" Carroll, the former Victorian batsman. Only a month after his first appearance for South Melbourne Hassett was picked for the Combined Country side of Victoria against the West Indies touring team, and he signalled his entry into comparatively important cricket with a score of 147 not out. Hassett not only captained the College at cricket, tennis and football, but he set up a record batting aggregate for Victoria Schools and won the Victoria Public Schools Combined Tennis Championship.

Soon after leaving school Hassett was chosen for Victoria, but he made only 4 and 9 and did not play again till three years later, in the 1935-36 season. His big chance came when he was sent for as one of the substitutes for several of the team touring New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia who had fallen ill on the eve of the first match. He seized his opportunity with 21, 51, 49 and 73, this last score against South Australia being the only innings of over half a century in a total of 201. Next season Hassett made his State place secure. He finished top of the batting with an average of 74.83, and, though his figures fell in 1937-38, confirmation of his obviously unusual ability followed by his selection for the tour to England.

Bradman apart, few men have started so well on tour as did Hassett in 1938. Following 43 in the opening game, he made 146, 148 run out, and 220 not out - still the highest score of his career - in his next three innings, and his season's average of 54.79 placed him inferior only to Bradman and Brown. Though his Test scores were not exceptional, he made victory possible at Leeds after Australia lost four men for 61 in getting 105 to win on a tricky pitch and with a storm approaching. This dapper little man, standing only five feet six and weighing just over ten stone, surprised many people by the power of his strokes.

In the next home season Hassett enhanced his growing reputation with four centuries in six State games, but it must have been very galling for him in 1939-40 as captain of his State when he scored 122 in each innings against New South Wales and yet was on the losing side in a match which decided the Championship. Hassett played only a little cricket during his war service with the Australian Army in the Middle East and Palestine till he arrived in England in 1945 and was appointed captain of the Australian Services side. To Hassett belonged considerable credit for the success of this venture which did much to revive big cricket in England, a programme of nearly fifty matches, including five Victory games with England. Not only did the Australians help to provide relaxation from war worries to the many thousands who watched their games, but they put their full share into making the cricket attractive and fought out in the happiest possible spirit.

On the way home the Australians played a number of matches in India, where Hassett set up an Indian record with 187 and 124 not out against the Princes XI. He toured New Zealand with W. A. Brown's team, and then led Victoria to the State Championship in 1946-47, when his average was 141.75. That year Hassett played in all five Tests against Hammond's team, and in the First Test he and Bradman established a new third-wicket record for England-Australia games with a stand of 276. In the four Tests in which he took part against India in 1947-48 Hassett's average was 110.66, his highest score 198 not out.

Unlike 1938, Hassett began moderately in England during the 1948 tour, but he hit his second century of the season in the First Test, and in his last 17 innings made six hundreds, winding up with succesive scores of 200 not out, 103 and 151. During the summer he completed 10,000 runs in first-class cricket, in which his full average is a fraction under 60. Only three or four batsmen in the world possess better figures over a career of any length. Well as he performed, however, Hassett no longer dominated the bowling as he did before the war. The change in Hassett's batting occurred during the 1946-47 MCC tour, when he became one of the most defensive batsmen in the Tests. Hassett himself is not certain how the change happened, but probably the war interruption in his cricket affected him. At any rate he seemed unable to produce the fluent driving which previously made him such a punishing batsman, and this caused him to be more cautious generally.

Still, this apart, Hassett remained master of nearly every stroke, and his superb timing, nimble footwork and strong wrists enabled him to make batting look a simple matter: back play a model of correctness, hooks, pulls, cuts and glances made with apparent casual ease disguising his close watch on the ball. Not many Australian batsmen have fared better on a wet pitch and fewer still have treated W. J. O'Reilly at his zenith in such summary fashion as did Hassett in their home encounters. Recognised for years as one of the best outfielders in the world, Hassett at times has bowled legbreaks, offbreaks and opened the attack; but rarely has be been called upon in first-class games. Hassett, who is married and has one child, is a golfer of considerable ability.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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